Mike and I have been jetting away the last few Valentine’s/long weekends. In 2015, we were in Disneyworld (I was also there for a conference). In 2014, we went dogsledding in the Canadian Rockies (near Jasper)! While there’s lots to do for Valentine’s in Edmonton, at that time of year we are just always itching for some kind of getaway.
This year, with the Canadian/US dollar the way it is (bad), we decided to do our annual getaway close-to-home so as to save some money, but looking for a place that was still far away enough that it felt like more of a holiday.
Mike had never been to Vancouver before, and I hadn’t been since I was a kid with my family, so we decided to jet off to Vancouver for the Family Day long weekend (coinciding with Valentine’s Day).
Check out a recap + tips on what I’d recommend you do in Vancouver – especially when the loonie is so low it really isn’t worth traveling south of the border!
Long Weekend Getaway: Things To Do In Vancouver
Stay at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel
Fairmont hotels around the world are known for their stunning views and the Fairmont Waterfront is no exception. Having had a taste of the Fairmont Jasper, Banff, and Hotel MacDonald (I’m a a big ambassador for Fairmont!) I was itching to try a Fairmont out-of-province. Get a harbour-view room at the Waterfront that includes floor-to-ceiling high windows with beautiful views of the water and mountains. If you get the corner room, there’s double the windows so double the beauty! We had incredible service at the Fairmont, and truly felt like we were living in luxury. Huge bed in a super clean and modern-looking room, plus the friendliest staff!
We also had a fantastic dining experience at the Fairmont Waterfront’s restaurant ARC. Along with the amazing food, we were also treated to live, local music on the Saturday night we dined. Tuesdays through Saturdays from 5-9 p.m., up-and-coming B.C. musicians entertain at ARC. It made for a really cool vibe! For food: share the ‘Beast Board’ – a massive (no really, it’s gigantic) board filled with local, sustainable meats or seafood, plus seasonal, local vegetables. Just incredibly delicious. There’s always a changing house-made sausage and that night’s was wild boar – quite possibly the best sausage I’ve ever eaten. Mike was in love with the beef tenderloin and I also ate up the duck. I also had their coastal oysters to start (featuring honey from the Waterfront’s own roof-top beehives!) which tasted just oh-so-fresh, and the foraged mushroom toast featuring wonderful, crispy oyster mushrooms. What a meal!
Take advantage of the Fairmont’s free bike rentals and zip around the harbour – or all over Vancouver really, the Fairmont Waterfront location is prime – surrounded by so many popular Vancouver neighbourhoods you could bike or walk to including Robson Street, Gastown, Yaletown, and Downtown/Granville Entertainment District. It also sits right above the Waterfront Station stop for the Canada Line SkyTrain – super convenient. I was also impressed to learn that the Fairmont Waterfront is a really green hotel – embracing and leading sustainability efforts.
Another thing we loved about the Fairmont Waterfront – as soon as you walk through the front entrance, you get a big whiff of the loveliest fragrance – Fairmont’s own lobby scent. Whenever I smell this particular aroma, I’ll think back quite fondly of our stay at the Fairmont Waterfront! (Read a bit more about the creation of their lobby scent here).
Staying at the Fairmont Waterfront was especially important for this particular trip because our weekend was unfortunately filled with rain. Of course we made the best of it, but part of ‘making the best of it’ included hiding away for a few especially sopping wet hours in our beautiful room.
With the dollar/exchange rate the way it is, opting to spend just a bit more Canadian dollars to feel like a king/queen at this luxurious, Canadian hotel (starting at $250/per night for a harbour view room!) is so worth it. You’d be paying that much (if not more) once all is said and converted at a far lesser hotel in the States.
* Disclaimer: I will always provide my 100% honest opinion on this blog. I partnered with the Fairmont Waterfront and our stay and dinner at ARC Dining was complimentary. This has no impact on opinions stated in this post (especially as I’m a big Fairmont fan to begin with ;))
Eat all of the food
Let’s face it, if I’m traveling – a big part of what I’m doing is eating. I get to know a place best by dining at its many fine establishments! Vancouver is especially well-known for its Asian food – with numerous ramen, sushi, late-night izakaya joints (drinks + small plates).
There are so many great eateries, in our short time there (2.5 days) we obviously couldn’t stop at every place we wanted to, but I think we made a pretty good dent – including Medina Cafe and Ask for Luigi for brunches, ARC Dining and Vij’s for dinners, plus sushi at Hapa Izakaya and Momo Sushi, ramen at Santouka, a stop in Chinatown, and much more (but again, not enough for my tummy lol).
Check out where Mike and I ate during our two and a half days in Vancouver + a must-order dish recommendations over in this blog post: Travel Vancouver: Long Weekend Dining Recap (Where to Eat in Vancouver)
Explore: Robson Street, Gastown, Yaletown, Downtown, Kitsilano
Coming from Edmonton, we have our Whyte Ave, and our 124 Street, neighbourhoods / strips where there are wonderful shops, restaurants and entertainment. Vancouver’s equivalents (or superior strips?) would be Robson Street, Gastown, Yaletown, Downtown, Kitsilano – there are so many roads to walk, that feature so many stores and restaurants, you could spend a long time exploring each one of these. They also all have their own unique look and feels. We certainly couldn’t do it justice in the 2.5 days we were there!
Head to Granville Island
Shop the Public Market at Granville Island (which is underneath the Granville Street Bridge in Vancouver). Visit the iconic open air museum and see the quirky, giant character silos. See the street performers and live musicians (there was an awesome bubble artist when we went!) and if it’s a nicer day out, take a ride around the water on the Aquabus!
See Historic Chinatown
I do make it a point to visit the Chinatowns of whatever city we are in. Vancouver’s Chinatown happens to the largest Chinatown in Canada, second largest in North America, and is also one of the oldest.
We also happened to visit during the annual Lunar New Year Parade! Watching that was a lot of fun and also seeing how many people came out to take in the festivities despite the downpour was interesting too.
Visit the shops and check out the restaurants – you’ll likely find some of the cheapest menu items in Chinatown.
Hop around with the Sky Train
With a $9 Day Pass, you can visit so many different areas in and around Vancouver using the Sky Train! It’s so affordable and their transit system is so slick. Literally hop from one area to the next, we probably should’ve utilized this better (we did end up cabbing to a few spaces because we felt that would be quicker) but you could literally plan a whole day all over Vancouver (or Richmond and neighbouring zones), getting to all of the places we went via cab, for just $9.
Try an escape room
Mike and I love escape rooms (as evidenced by having tried rooms at the majority of Edmonton’s escape companies) so we thought it would be fun to try a room in Vancouver.
We’ve also never tried to escape a room just the two of us so were curious to see how we’d do. We’re told the Richmond area has about 30 escape rooms now (wow! and we thought Edmonton’s 6 ish was a lot) but there’s only a handful in the downtown Vancouver area including G.U.E.S.S. HQ, where we ended up going.
Pricier than the rest (at $30 a person) we tried their Into the Depths room and thought it was pretty cool – immersive, and also a different type of escape concept than what we are used to in Edmonton. We got pretty far but there was unfortunately a room malfunction and we couldn’t go on without them needing to stop and reset the whole room – they gave us a refund which was great, but we were disappointed we couldn’t see through the whole experience!
Still, would highly recommend this as a thing to do on your trip to Vancouver (or anywhere really).
Take in all the skyscraper and architecture eye candy
Something that immediately popped out for us about Vancouver is how unreal* the city skyline is. We felt some of the skyscrapers, office buildings and condos looked bigger and shinier than even ones we’ve seen in New York. Just stopping and looking up will put you in awe. Also interesting for us was how almost all of the apartments / condos looked so unique from the previous one. We are so used to seeing the same kind of building just lining the street but that’s just not the case in Vancouver. Some of the most interesting buildings we’ve ever seen are located here.
* Mike’s description. He repeatedly said = “these buildings are unreal!”
Take photos with all the public art
I’m a big fan of public art and am always excited to see art in the different places we visit. Although we didn’t formally go out to visit specific public art sculptures, anytime we were in the vicinity of one I had to stop to take a photo, read or wonder about the art piece, and you should too! Pictured above is ‘The Drop‘ sculpture, meant to be an “homage to the power of nature and the relationship and outlook towards the water that surrounds us.” Mike said it means that Vancouver rains a lot, lol.
Walk Coal Harbour
The waterfront is such a beautiful area, be sure to walk the whole Coal Harbour strip and stop in at some of the great restaurants along the way.
Rent bikes and spin around the harbour – or Stanley Park
If you’re not staying at the Fairmont Waterfront, where you can rent bikes for free, head to one of a number of bike rental spots in and around the area and zip around Coal Harbour or Stanley Park (a place we sadly did not visit due to all the rain). Biking Vancouver, such a Vancouver thing to do!
Walk the Capilano Suspension Bridge
I really wanted to visit the famed Vancouver Capilano Suspension Bridge, located just 15 minutes from downtown (and you can take a free shuttle there that departs from Canada Place / the Waterfront), but this was an outing that unfortunately didn’t work due to the rain.
On your less-rainy trip, “take a walk on the wild side” with a visit to this stunning bridge 110 feet above the forest floor. There’s also a Cliffwalk, Treetop Adventures, guided tours and more. The photos look so cool!
Do a brewery tour
Mike isn’t much of a sightseeing guy so really I am appreciative that he puts up with my wanting to walk around neighbourhoods and see sights – and eat all the food. We had considered doing a brew tour, as there are quite a few breweries in Vancouver, but as I don’t drink beer it would have been a waste of money on my end! If you’re interested in beer, it would be a great use of your money – and great way to spend a few hours. Not interested in the formal brewery yours (as the cost does add up for sure) – just map out your own!
Visit Vancouver’s first cat cafe
We didn’t get to squeeze this into our weekend but as a cat lover and cat cafe frequenter (see my review of five that we visited in Japan!) I believe stopping in at a cat cafe is always an ameowzing time. Check out Vancouver’s first cat cafe, the “Catfe” on your visit.
And don’t forget an umbrella!
Because we went during Rainy Season, and generally Vancouver gets a lot of rain anyway. So make sure the rain doesn’t dampen your getaway plans – umbrellas are essential to the Vancouver visit (made more evident by all the umbrella stands in every place we stopped into lol).
So what are your favourite things to do in Vancouver?
Did our trip cover off some of the big stuff?
We’d really like to return in the summer (still so many places to eat at, you know?)